By Josh Ferguson
Team Canada survived a late push by the Slovaks to hang on for a 3-2 win and solidify a cross-border battle for gold with the Americans.
Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and an assist while Chris Pronger chipped in two helpers to lead the Canadians team past a Slovak squad that almost sandbagged Canada in a scrappy third period to steal the victory.
Patrick Marleau opened the scoring on a deflection from a Shea Weber point shot by knocking it down and through the legs of Slovak backstop Jaroslav Halak. Brenden Morrow gave Canada a two-goal lead going into the intermission after he fooled Halak with a deflection of his own off a Pronger blast.
Getzlaf collected the lone marker of the second period on the power play when he gobbled up a Corey Perry rebound in the slot and roofed it over Halak’s glove to make it 3-0 for Canada. Canada outshot the Slovaks 21-9 through two periods.
After clamping down the neutral zone through two periods of play to frustrate the Canadian attack, Slovakia opened it up in the third and outshot Canada 12-7.
The Slovaks were rewarded when Lubomir Visnovsky drove the net from the point and lobbed a puck on goal from the icing line. Visnovsky caught Roberto Luongo cheating off the post enough to squeak a weak shot off the side of his pads and into the goal.
After Michal Handzus set up a dramatic finish by burying a loose puck in Canada’s crease to make it 3-2, the Slovaks pulled Halak to make a final push to tie the game. Hearts across the host nation skipped a beat when Pavol Demitra found himself all alone beside the Canada goal with plenty of net to shoot at, but Luongo’s outstretched glove got a piece of the shot to solidify the victory.
Luongo finished the game with 19 saves on 21 shots, while Halak was solid at the other end by turning aside 25 of the 28 shots he faced.
The Slovaks will attempt to win their first Olympic medal when they battle Finland for bronze on Saturday.
Team Canada will get a shot at gold in front of their home crowd when they rekindle their rivalry with the youthful Americans on Sunday. Canada lost to Team USA in the preliminary round by a score of 5-3.